As office buildings reopen across the country, operators are reconfiguring the spaces, service styles and menus of onsite cafes to meet post-pandemic protocols. Enhanced sanitation is a given, but other requirements are a little hazier, depending on state guidelines.
To help its B&I partners navigate the new normal, Sodexo launched Rise with Sodexo, a new program that pinpoints strategies and best practices for phasing in foodservice operations. During the lockdown, Joe Ganci, president of Sodexo corporate services for the Eastern half of the U.S., helped formulate the program, drawing on lessons learned from China’s reopening, along with input from onsite operators and vendors.
Photograph courtesy of Sodexo
“The future of B&I foodservice is a moving target,” Ganci says. “Every state is moving at its own pace, and every operation has its own back-to-work plan. But our overriding priorities are to make [foodservice] employees feel safe and bring value to our customers at a scary time.”
Sodexo’s plan proceeds in phases, as staffers slowly return to work. Phase 1’s changes are the most extreme, Ganci says, with no self-service and prepackaged items only. Simply To Go by Sodexo is expanding, with a larger menu of cold sandwiches and salads, along with a more extensive selection of microwaveable hot items.
“Although all the food is prepackaged, we still want it to look beautiful to make a good first impression,” Ganci says. His team is stressing freshness and presentation as much as ever to win customers back. An Italian caprese sandwich featuring layers of mozzarella, tomatoes and red onion on crusty artisan-style bread is one such offering, as is a layered fresh strawberry shortcake parfait.
With the new focus on packaging, some locations have to make compromises on sustainability, Ganci admits. Sanitation is a top of mind now, and cost is also a consideration. For those reasons, disposable utensils and individual condiment packages are part of most Phase 1 plans. But “we have to keep sustainability goals in mind,” he says.
During Phase 2, stations can begin operating, with social distancing protocols and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff in place. “It will take time to get back to full service, and some clients may want to eliminate market bars and other former setups entirely,” Ganci says.
A time for innovation
Ganci feels that these drastic changes present an opportunity for fresh innovations and creative workplace solutions. For example, Sodexo is exploring cloud kitchens and offsite commissaries to deliver meals directly to office workers. Rotating popups in retail locations are another possibility. Both of these ideas can provide services in a more economical way by counteracting PPE expenses, he says.
Photograph courtesy of Sodexo
Ganci also sees more encouragement for outside delivery: “There’s a need to help local restaurants generate business and thrive by servicing our workplaces," he says, at least until offices repopulate and onsite foodservice is operating at full throttle once again.